This Gorgeous Destination Right Outside The US Is The Budget-Friendly Spot To Escape Winter Woes

It's been a rough year for everyone, full stop. Heck, the last few years have been difficult. Perhaps it's time for a tropical vacation? Warm beaches, turquoise's the perfect medicine for what ails you. Of course, most popular tropical destinations are packed in the winter as those in cold climates fly south for the winter. The more tourists you find, the higher the costs of pretty much everything are likely to be. However, we have a suggestion for a beautiful island that isn't very far from the United States. It's small, only 26 miles long, and because it's off the beaten path, your fellow tourists haven't driven the prices to the point of being outrageous. This place is Isla Holbox in the northern Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.

It's pretty easy to get to if you don't mind a little drive. If you fly into Cancun, and drive two hours to Chiquila, you can grab an inexpensive ferry for the 15-minute ride to Isla Holbox. Though you can book tours, many of the activities on the island don't require money, like snorkeling (if you have your equipment), an hour-long sandbar walk to Punta Mosquito to see pink flamingos, a visit to the Punta Coco beach, and a swim. If you have a little flexibility in your budget, you can do some amazing things like swim with whale sharks. Here's what to do on Isla Holbox.

In the sea at Isla Holbox

Aside from the flamingos, the big ocean draw on Isla Holbox is swimming with the gentle giant whale sharks. These creatures are the largest shark in the world, but they only eat plankton. They can be up to 40 feet long and weigh around 11 tons. These gorgeous animals are easy and safe to swim with and it could be the experience of a lifetime. One whale shark tour we found with Viator was $220 per person (at the time of this writing) and includes a boat trip for a duo swim along with a guide who is an expert on whale sharks, as well as breakfast/snacks (with vegetarian options), snorkeling at Cabo Catoche after, and a stop at the beach at the end. You may also see sea turtles, manta rays, and octopuses. Whale shark season is mid-May through mid-September.

Isla Holbox has an unusual experience for you in the form of Cenote Yalahau (cenotes are underground caves with water in it and an open entrance at the top). You can grab a tour to the Yalahau Lagoon to swim in this spot that is said to have been a refuge for 18th century pirate Francisco de Molas. You may even spot some river dolphins on the way. You can also take an inexpensive kayak tour here (currently around $56 including equipment) and through the mangroves where you could even see crocodiles. When the sun sets, you can gaze at the glowing bioluminescent plankton, either on a tour, or by walking to the beach at night for free.

On land at Isla Holbox

There are almost no cars on Isla Holbox and few paved streets. However, you can walk, rent a golf cart, or bike here. The inhabitants are largely fishermen, meaning the seafood is going to be inexpensive and very fresh. There are hotels and restaurants for many different budgets, though they'll be a bit higher during whale shark season. If you have a chance and you like lobster, you can get it on pizza here, and you should try the marquesita, a thin dessert crepe filled with things like fruit or Nutella and cheese. Holbox Town, which you can see above, is festive and full of incredible street art and colorful murals.

Isla Holbox is famous for its hammocks, which are a lovely way to lounge the day away on the beach. However, it's important to note that if you see pictures of these hammocks in the water online and hope to lay in one, that is no longer an option as of 2023. Despite that, the ones on the beach, strung between palm trees, are the perfect setting for a great Instagram shot. You should absolutely take one with the colorful "Holbox" signs that are scattered around. One is even missing the "L" so you can pose as the letter.